Story – An Artist’s Journey

56coveLa Jolla Cove

There are two journeys that await everyone the physical one and the one of the mind.

As a kid, I grew up in a privileged, beautiful, and bitter place. La Jolla is and was one of the wealthier towns in the world. It was made up of designer homes, coves with sleeping seals, beaches, cerulean skies, tennis courts, eucalyptus trees with their dusty-sticky smell, and earth crystals one could dig out of the hillsides. And it was populated by sophisticated and rich business people, models, housewives, and BMW’s. Alcohol and divorces flowed a little too freely, and the sun shined after the morning fog.

My grandparents were made up of a German adventurer and a free-spirited Canadian, and a Hollywood flapper and a cigarette executive; both sets lived in Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. There are rumors of a touch of insanity in the family, something about the phantom uncle that died in an institution. Another story is that my German grandfather traveled from Argentina to Canada and courted my 18-year old grandmother, brought her down to Los Angeles and then married her. The same grandmother had the complete set of the Time-Life Library of Art books, the book on Delacroix was my favorite. I would spend hours looking at those books in their Mid-Wilshere bungalow with its streaming southern light casting rays of light highlighting tiny dust particles making them look like stars.

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Delacroix, Chopin

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La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club

Everyone in my family played some tennis. My parents thought it was a good way for the five kids to keep busy, tired, and off the streets. I had a knack for it being quick and strategic. Lester Stoffen, 3-time Wimbledon doubles champion was the local tennis pro gave me lessons once every two weeks which my grandparents paid for; he taught integrated fundamentals. And I liked art. In sixth grade, another kid forgot his math book and the teacher, Mrs. Bowden, allowed him to do his art project instead. That day on the way home from school I threw my math book under a tree. The next day I told the teacher I lost my book. For weeks I did my art project instead of math. Sadly another kid found the book, brought it to class and Mrs. Bowden looked at me with a puzzled expression. She pulled me aside and told me “you are going to float through life and I am afraid that you will not amount to anything.” I guess she didn’t think that being one of the best tennis players in my age group in Southern California (in its heyday) or my passion for art was work. For the next decade, tennis and art were my daily projects.

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After winning my first tournament, boy’s ten and under.

(Growing up and even today I wish I never had to attend school, rather, like in the Reniassance, I would have jumped at the option to be an artist’s apprentice.)

I was too young (11-years old) to understand, and may never know the causes when I locked myself in the bathroom for 3 hours, laid down on the tiled floor and pressed my hands to the sides of my head, hoping to push the voices out of my head. There was an incessant inner voice repeatedly screaming “evil, evil, evil, evil is here.” I asked the voice where it was? Was it something inside or outside of me? What did I do wrong? Was I bad? I looked inside and couldn’t find anything deserving of such a horrible dark feeling. Another voice said, “no, you are not bad, you are a good.” Continuing to rack my brain for hours I came to the conclusion that whatever this dark matter was it was outside of me. I didn’t know if it was a person, a thing, or something in the atmosphere, but I was relieved to feel it certainly wasn’t me. In the future, I would be on the lookout for it.

Awakening and My Grandmother

I loved my Canadian grandmother very much, she worked hard and appreciated sports and painting. She loved Los Angeles and I never once heard her bitch. She was so wise that if she were directing us kids, we never knew we were being corrected. I didn’t know but only subconsciously felt that she was giving me the green light to be an artist. She saw the seed bud and watered it as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.

Once while walking with her down a sidewalk lined with shops, we stopped at a bookstore’s window. Time stopped. There was a huge book with a painted portrait of a woman on the cover. The woman’s eyes were so gentle, thoughtful, with a quiet intensity almost if she were to cry. The shadows made out of space seemed to caress and move around her neck and delicately touch her earlobe. The cover of the book was a portal to a universe that opened up and pulled me inside. I lost my real life bearings, and all could feel was the energy of this beautiful person; it was like being in a dream of light currents. I shook my head and realized where I was and looked for grandmother. Looking over to my left I saw that she was two windows further and she glanced at me with an expression saying “you go on and keep looking dear.” Which is what I did until I had had my full of looking at the portrait.

I was turning 12-years old, and my grandmother gave me a heavy package when I tore off the wrapping it was that book!  It was The Complete Works of Rembrandt.

 

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Rembrandt, Hendrickje Stoffels (This is the first work I fell in love with. The shadows clothe her in mysterious space, the empathy in her eyes is palatable – so truthful and amazing that paint can be organized to communicate psychological depth).

Continue reading “Story – An Artist’s Journey”

Of Nudes and Knowledge

First published by The Atlas Society.

One of the more poetic events in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is when the protagonist, Howard Roark comes to watch Dominique posing naked for Mallory’s marble sculpture. The sculpture is of the human spirit destined for the Stoddard Temple. The three of them experience a perfect synergy of admiration, creativity, and beauty.

Further plot events see the destruction of the Stoddard Temple, one of the many painful obstacles Roark needs to overcome to continue his unique and innovative vision of architecture.

marlene dietrich the song of songs   studio2
Stills from Song of Songs starring Marlene Dietrich and Brian Aherne

In a way, we can look at art history and see some patterns similar to The Fountainhead that include the beautiful nude, innovations, and the power of the creative artist.

Continue reading “Of Nudes and Knowledge”

Figure the Future

Figure the Future
By Michael Newberry
Presented by The Atlas Society, 2008

Michael Newberry reflects on how the nude supports the best within us and shows that it has been present at the conception and implementation: of democracy; of systematic philosophy; and of art history.

0:17 Introduction by Robert Bidinotto

2:33 The Nude as the Personification of the Individual
The Status of Clothed Figures
Ramasus, Queen Elizabeth 1, Ingres, Millet, Whistler, Wyeth, Pearlstein, and Richter.

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Drawing the Line between Pornography and Art

Porn and art generate two classic human responses: “Art is in the eye of the beholder” and “I know porn when I see it.”

Sometimes these responses overlap such as in reaction to erotic Egyptian drawings, Ancient Greek wine vases, 19th century etchings and literature, and in 20th century erotic photos, movies, and adult cartoons. In these cases, we observe art with erotic touches or eroticism with artistic touches. What is the difference between them? And can we find the spot that divides them?

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Erotic and Satirical Papyrus. Papyrus, Der el-Medina, New Kingdom,
Dynasty XX (1186 – 1070 BCE). Turin Museum

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Erotic scene on the rim of an Attic red-figure kylix, c. 510 BC.

Continue reading “Drawing the Line between Pornography and Art”

Five Ayn Rand Questions for Michael Newberry

1) Tell us who you are and what you do.mndana2

I grew up on the beach and have been an artist ever since. I’m a figurative artist and my work explores light, love, and appreciation.

2) When did you first become familiar with Ayn Rand and her works?

When I was 19, my sister Janet—a world top-20 tennis player—told me she had a book I needed to read. That book was Atlas Shrugged.

3) What most interested you or hit you with an “Ah hah!” about Rand’s thinking?

I felt like Rand was giving me a pat on the back for being an artist. She has a very high regard for artists. It was like she was saying to me: “You’re doing a great job; keep going.”

4) How does her work inspire you today?

evesme SmallShe’s a great champion of creators. Rand’s work is a reminder that it’s the creation that matters the most, not superficial things. That is inspiring.

5) Rand wanted us to aspire to a world as it can be and should be. Can you tell us something optimistic you see in the world today or in the future?

What a great question! When I started my career, there were only a handful of figurative artists and they were not held in esteem. Now there are thousands upon thousands of exceptionally good artists who’ve paid their dues and really learned all the skillsets to create incredible figurative works. This is a huge, monumental development and I think Rand helped to set the stage for it.

Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence with The Atlas Society

Advancements in Painting Light

Advancements in Painting Light by Michael Newberry
Light delights us. In paintings is easy to see, but the development of it through history is anything but simple.It has been the focus of some of the world’s greatest artists. It is worthwhile to get a glimpse of some of the innovative artworks that advanced light in painting.

Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514

Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514

Light in a painting is tied primarily to the form of the objects. Also, it has a yin/yang relationship to shadow. No shadow, no light. An artist will use light and shadow to mold forms.

These horses’ heads from the Chauvet Caves in France are a great example of forming with light and shadow. It is awe-inspiring that this artist had this knowledge 30,000 years ago.

Chauvet Caves Horses
Horses’ Heads, Chauvet Caves, 30,000 b.c.

In contrast to the Horses’ Heads, this flat image of a Minoan fisherman is without light. It is a fresco painting from Santorini, 1650-1500 b.c. The images are recognizable by their blocked-out silhouettes (like a cardboard cut-out).

I really like the colors and the balanced silhouettes of this image, but it lacks the substance of light and form.

Akrotiri-Santorini 1650-1500 b.c.
Akrotiri-Santorini 1650-1500 b.c.
There are few examples of ancient Greek painting. Here is one faded example from the tomb site of Alexander the Great’s immediate family.

The addition of light complicates visual imagery. It catapults a flat image into a 3D universe. It imbues the image with more weight and realism–closer to how we see real objects.

Here we can make out shadows molding the mouths, eyes, chins, and undersides of their arms.

 Rape of Persephone by Hades, Nikomakos, 350 b.c. Ancient Aigai.
Rape of Persephone by Hades, Nikomakos, 350 b.c. Ancient Aigai. The only complete example of an ancient Greek painting that has yet been found.

In these Pompeii frescos in Italy, we get some idea of what might have been classical Greek painting.

The environment is bathed in light. Notice the hierarchy, a key component in creating light, from the bright light behind the two woman and the more muted light between the bull’s legs.

Also, notice the light’s sweep up the half-naked woman’s torso.

Roman Europa

Europa and the Bull, 1st C. AD, Pompeii

This is a great example of the artist using light to bring out the form of anatomy. Notice the flicks of highlight along the man’s arm. And the flow of light along the woman’s torso.

Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern  Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern
Lovers, 1st C. AD, Pompeii The Northern

Renaissance artists’ works are noted for attention to extravagant details. In The Arnoflini Portrait below notice the tour de force of exquisite details. The painting is very neatly broken down to each object’s color group: brown for the fur of the coat and dog; pale flesh tone for the people; red, green, and purple for the clothes.

The light here takes a subservient role. It is used to simply set off all the details of the objects. Light is coming from behind our left shoulder. But there is also light coming in from the left far window, behind the couple. This can set up objects competing with each other for our attention.
The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

In this da Vinci we have one light source, unlike the van Eyck work above.

Lady with an Ermine, da Vinci, 1482-5
Lady with an Ermine, da Vinci, 1482-5

Here is an important, though a subtle difference in developing light in painting. Notice the women’s shoulders. Van Eyck used just enough light to give shape to the green cloth and white scarf. In contrast to that, da Vinci cloaked a sheen of light over both her flesh and cloth of her shoulder.

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

leonardo-da-vinci-lady-with-an-ermine

Raphael makes a great breakthrough with the light in The Dilerverence of St. Peter below. He takes the idea of the halo, yet he wants to make it feel real. Behind the angel is glowing light, as if the light was coming from the end of a tunnel.

An interesting phenomenon is the transparency of the angel and it’s wing tips. Often I have shown students a fact of how translucency works. You need to have a bright window in a room full of shadow. Then you hold up your finger: half of it against the light and the other half against the shadow. Then you squint looking at your finger. You will see a very delicate border dividing your finger, making it literally transparent–exactly like the angel’s wings here.

Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514
Deliverance of Saint Peter, Raphael, 1514

The flatness of this symbolic halo is a good contrast to the realism of the Raphael. Actually, there is some effect of light on his forehead, collar, and hand, but the light is by no means consistent.

St. Nicholas, early 14th century
St. Nicholas, early 14th century

Caravaggio went after light with a vengeance. He dramatically contrasted light adjacent to dark. Notice the boy’s eye with its startling brilliant highlight and almost black shadow.

In exploring these high contrasts, Caravaggio ran into some spatial difficulties–Goliath’s head doesn’t feel like it is a yard in front of David. Rather, it rests on the same plane. Contrast with the Rembrandt below.

David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio,1610
David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio,1610

On the other side of Europe, Rembrandt was taking light further than any previous artist. Rembrandt spotlighted the people and things in his paintings. He used light to highlight the things he wanted us to focus on. But he also solved the difficult problem of spatial relationships. It is quite simple for us to track the spatial relationships of all the people in his painting. Contrast that with the David above.

It is interesting that The Night Watch setup is similar to the van Eyck couple portrait. In both paintings, there are two light sources, one from behind us left, and from further back left.

Rembrandt, The Night Watch, 1642
Rembrandt, The Night Watch, 1642

The key difference between the two paintings is Van Eyck used light to heighten all the details, while Rembrandt stylized the light, making everything else subservient.

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434

It is impossible to talk about light in painting and not include Vermeer. Radically different than Rembrandt in style, Vermeer pushed the envelope of how far one could realistically perceive light.

I could spend volumes in comparing nuances of light effects here. Let me just point out one for now.

 The Milkmaid, Vermeer, 1658-61

The Milkmaid, Vermeer, 1658-61

Vermeer Milkmaid demo light

Just above her head there is an extremely subtle pink tint, somewhat in the shape of a rectangle. It is probably the cast light formed by the shape of the window. Lower right, behind her body, are several, increasing subtle shifts of cooler colors than the pink tint above.

Vermeer’s eye probably sees more nuanced light shifts than any other artist, before or since.

This is part 1 in the innovation series on light. In part 2 I will show how artists developed the light based on complimentary colors.

Michael Newberry
New York, September 24, 2007

Imagination

Imagination by Michael Newberry

Gallup, The Glistening Playground, 2009, 30 x 40 inches

Gallup, The Glistening Playground, 2009, 30 x 40 inches

Imagination is one of the cornerstones of art. Its use can be quietly subtle, or flagrantly push beyond the bizarre, or inspire generations of people to dream beyond their immediate circumstances and envision a world of possibilities.

One of the more quiet ways to use imagination is to recreate a real scene from life, yet include additional real objects to complete the idea of the work. Here, David Gallup created an idyllic setting of the Pacific Ocean replete with dolphins, birds, and surfers.

Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946
Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946

Here Dali uses some realistic elements and then distorts aspects of them to create an imagined world in which the unbelievable interacts with the real.

Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1881
Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1881

A variation on the unbelievable subject with the real comes from Gerome’s Pygmalion and Galatea. He conveys the legend of the sculpture of Galatea being so perfect that the stone turned into living flesh. Gerome does make the far-fetched scene look as if this is really happening.

Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913
Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913

Kandinsky’s Sea Battle conveys a rather freewheeling imagination – an ambiguous collection of forms and colors. Is that a strawberry or blood? A wing of a bird or a splash of water? A sail? A rock? It’s rather like looking for animals, and things in the shapes of clouds.

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830
Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Delacroix in Liberty Leading the People uses a great deal of imagination in the subject, a half naked woman leading the masses in a revolt against a regime. Yet, the scene is meant to feel genuinely real–not like a surreal dream or like an impossible physical transformation.

By how an artist expresses their imagination, such as an escape, a playful distraction, as entertainment, or as a beacon, one can get some insights into the artist’s philosophy of life. And see something of your reflection as well.

I hope you enjoyed imagining art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, March 2009

Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.

A New Medium for Postmodern Expression

A New Medium for Postmodern Expression by Michael Newberry

One of Postmodern Art’s important contributions to art history is cheek. But, far from being simple, there are several requirements that need to be met for a successful postmodern work.

The recent Marco Evaristti exhibition of canned meatballs cooked in his fat inspired me for a moment to see what idea I would come up with if I were a postmodernist. It would have to be a new medium of artistic expression and, at the same time, solve several PM requirements. The thing would have to be temporal; use the body of the artist in some fashion; reference an aspect of mass production; be an unorthodox medium; and use the natural force of one’s spontaneous genius (Kant).

As you might imagine, solving these demands is no easy feat.

Evaristti, Polpette al grasso di Marco.
Evaristti, Polpette al grasso di Marco. Marco Evaristti recently exhibited canned meatballs cooked in his liposuction fat.

Think about the variety of unorthodox mediums PM artists have used: straw (Kiefer); human excrement (Manzoni); elephant excrement (Ofili); urine (Serrano); blood (Quinn); islands, buildings, trees, etc. (Christo); rocks (Smithson); earth (Turrell); toenail clippings (Jones); sperm (Meste); Vaseline (Barney); mayonnaise, hot dogs, ketchup (McCarthy); and, of course, human fat (Evaristti, above).

My thoughts are going along the lines that it is absolutely imperative that a postmodernist use a medium that is unique to art, yet, is common to the human experience. The result should be temporal. Here today, gone tomorrow kind of stuff. Piffft, piffft. Something that bypasses argument and is distasteful–important PM qualities. That’s it! Flatulence. Canned flatulence. Yes. Flatulence d’ Artista. No, wait, don’t go off dismissing my idea too quickly. I think this has merits.

Newberry, 2007, Flatulence d' Artista, canned flatulence, 8x2 1/2x2 1/2"
Newberry, 2007, Flatulence d’ Artista, canned flatulence, 8×2 1/2×2 1/2″ $ priceless

Think about it:

1) It’s temporal, it instantly dissipates, there is no waiting around for weeks on end for a Christo project to come down or for Merde d’ Artista to decompose.

2) It uses the body as a stool … I mean a tool of artistic expression.

3) It’s a unique medium, and so minimalist that it’s totally transparent. There is no painting white on white. In fact, way beyond that it is almost nothing. Yet it leaves an unmistakable suggestion of our experiencing it, experiencing something subliminal, and, depending on the taste and the good sense of the audience, something sublime.

4) It’s mass produced, or at least it has the reference of being mass produced. And it is something that every human has experienced and produced, yet they have never thought of as art, until now.

5) It’s a natural force of one’s expressive genius. No explanation needed. After all, Kant has said that: “[Genius] cannot indicate scientifically how it brings about its product, but rather gives the rule as nature.” Genius in art is an explosive force with no thought about its coming about.

6) And this artwork is interactive. Say some boorish acquaintance comes along and fills your space with thoughts that smell suspiciously of romanticism. You get out your can of Flatulence d’ Artista, piffft, piffft. This lets him know exactly the position you take on that! Piffft, piffft, pifffffft.

So when it comes to Postmodern Art, be clever and use a little cheek.

Michael Newberry
New York, June 2007

Note: Sometimes it is helpful for an artist to contemplate the absurd. Michelangelo once wrote a viciously satirical reply to the Pope’s request for gigantic marble sculpture in which several massive blocks would be needed. Michelangelo outlined that if the subject were a smoking man, he could hollow out a smoke shop at the base, ground floor, charge rent, and even create a funnel and chimney, in which smoke could escape through the marble pipe. The concept of using marble as building blocks was the antithesis of Michelangelo’s prime concept that the figure is inside the block of marble waiting for the artist to release him/her.

Michelangelo wasn’t simply ranting, he was examining the aesthetic issues of the concept of using blocks to create a sculpture, and the absurd directions that it could lead.

Likewise, with my satire above, I am seriously looking at possible PM pathways, and drawing the conclusion that postmodernism is a crippling aesthetic.

MN